Questions Keep Coming!
Q: I’ve been reading all kinds of gloom and doom about the future of Amtrak’s long-distance trains. What’s your best guess?
A: Short term, the status quo can probably be maintained. But farther out, I really don’t know. It all boils down to how many more years can they squeeze out of the Superliner fleet. Some of those cars are more than 40 years old and most have been overhauled and renovated several times. The real problem? it does seem clear that Amtrak president, Richard Anderson, and his number two guy, Stephen Gardner, really want to get rid of the long-distance trains.
Q: Why should I have to tip the people working in Amtrak dining cars?
A: You don’t have to. Tipping is part of our system, but it is voluntary. I choose to leave a tip—assuming I’ve had good service—because it’s a very tough job, especially on the long distance trains.
Q: I’m planning an extended Amtrak vacation for our family of four, but am not real confident that I can do it all myself. Am I better off just booking an existing package through Amtrak Vacations? Or should I use a travel agent?
A: I think that depends on whether or not you can find a pre-packaged itinerary that works for you. If it does—great. However, in my opinion, most of today’s travel consultants don’t know very much about booking long-distance trains. However, you can find out rather quickly if a travel consultant knows anything about long-distance train travel. Just ask him or her to explain the difference between a roomette in a Superliner and one in a Viewliner. If they don’t know that there’s a wash basin and a toilet in Viewliner roomettes while those facilities are “down the hall” in Superliners, find someone else to put together your trip.
If you’re planning an extended rail journey involving two or three trains, there are just too many variables requiring very specific knowledge. That’s especially true if you want a custom itinerary that’s built around a special event of some kind—a family reunion, for example, or a visit to a half dozen major league baseball parks. In those cases, my very strong recommendation is that you pay the additional fee to have a real expert work with you to create an itinerary that avoids problems like missed connections, for instance. As to a specific recommendation, I’d suggest using Train Travel Consulting in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Ask for Ted or Sylvia and tell them I referred you.